Leigh Wood defends the WBA featherweight title (the one that anyone should really be recognizing at this point) against Michael Conlan this Saturday on DAZN, in what is an intriguing matchup on paper, perhaps flying a bit under the radar on a slow week in what is still a slow period for boxing, with things set to blow up in April and May.
Wood (25-2, 15 KO) is the slight underdog even though he’s at home, it’s his promoter’s show, and he looked great last time out upsetting and smashing Xu Can. Conlan (16-0, 8 KO) has received steady promotional hype since going pro in 2017, fresh off of a big controversy at the 2016 Olympics, but has struggled to really break through as a pro, even though he’s remained unbeaten.
Will Conlan live up to his hype in what is really his biggest fight to date, or is Wood coming into his own at 33 and primed to pick up a big win?
Scott Christ (7-6)
This fight is about whether Michael Conlan becomes, even for a minute, the top-tier pro that has been sold since his professional debut five years ago, or if he’s just not that guy, more hype than ability, with a skill set that just doesn’t translate to top-level success.
Not that Leigh Wood is an elite guy overall in the sport, but he’s arguably a top five featherweight right now. It’s not the strongest division at the moment, and we’re talking about someone who lost clean and fair to Jazza Dickens all of three fights ago. But Wood switched up his camp, changed his approach a bit, and has dominated his last two bouts.
Conlan can within the same fight look like a class boxer and then a hype job. I think he absolutely falls short against the cream of the crop, but is Wood good enough not just to win, but to get the judges to agree he won? Wood has home field in Nottingham and it’s a Matchroom show, so it might be Conlan who needs to make sure this thing is truly clear.
I think this is a fascinating matchup if you’re someone who has paid close attention to Conlan’s pro career. This is make or break, and given the level of promotion he’s been given by Top Rank, Leigh Wood was not expected to be the “make or break” opponent in fight No. 17. But we’re dealing in the reality of it, not in the salesmanship. Conlan’s 30. He’s the fighter he’s going to be, probably. But Wood is 33, too, and has never really been seen as a guy who would go to true world level. I’ve got no confidence in this, but I’m going with Wood to ride the wave of momentum and the home crowd’s backing to a win. Conlan has just too often not looked the part. I think Wood also has the potential to really pour it on at some point, so I’ll throw the real dart, calling for a late stoppage. Wood TKO-11
Wil Esco (10-3)
I think this is actually a pretty decent matchup in terms of skill and style. Leigh Wood is certainly beatable but he does have a bit of craft to him and I think he could pose some problems for Michael Conlan here. Since Conlan hasn’t really shown to be much of a puncher, nor Wood for that matter, I have expectations for this fight to go the distance, and with sort of tactical fight on hand I think it boils down to which fighter will most impress the judges.
That could potentially go either way because I think Wood will be a little more active while Conlan may land the more telling shots. Ultimately, though, I think it’s going to be Conlan who has the edge here with his southpaw style as Wood is going to have a harder time than usual trying to establish his jab, and I’m not confident he can lead with his right effectively enough to compensate. I’ll take Conlan to edge a decision. Conlan SD-12
John Hansen (10-3)
Getting jobbed at the Olympics may be the greatest thing ever to happen to Michael Conlan. When I think about Conlan, the main thing that comes to mind is that Olympic debacle, followed by the godawful facial hair he sported for a while. It looks from this week’s press events that Conlan has shaved, which is a relief. Not just for me, but for him. Now he can buy cold medicine again without the pharmacists calling the police on reflex.
Conlan is the book favorite in this one, and I’m not sure why. He did beat TJ Doheny the last time out, which isn’t nothing. But, overall, his pro career has progressed by increments small enough to make Sergey Bubka demand the man just show us what he’s capable of already.
Leigh Wood could be the next centimeter of progress for Conlan. Wood is a proven commodity at the domestic level, with flashes of even more in his last fight. Wood showed something against Xu Can that we haven’t seen from Conlan as a pro, but maybe Conlan can rise to that level, too. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but I will say that I look forward to reading everyone else’s predictions this week. I’ll need one of the guys to describe Conlan’s path to victory. Wood UD-12
Patrick Stumberg (9-4)
I don’t fancy Wood’s chances against the cream of the crop at 126; Leo Santa Cruz can take his best shot and outwork him like we thought Xu Can would, and I feel like Emanuel Navarrete would lay a beating on him. I do, however, think he’s got this one. As others have said before, there just isn’t an extra gear to Conlan’s game. As technically sound as he is, he hasn’t shown much killer instinct and can struggle to hurt people even when he’s throwing overhand rights from the hip. Wood’s the far more likely of the two to land eye-catching blows, even if he isn’t as freakishly aggressive as Ionut Baluta.
Conlan isn’t quite sharp enough to stay out of Wood’s wheelhouse and doesn’t hit hard enough to keep him honest. Wood’s right-hand-heavy offense outshines Conlan’s work for a competitive but clear decision. Wood UD-12
And the staff winner is...
Leigh Wood (3-1)!
YOU make the call!
Who wins Wood vs Conlan?
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